Meals on Wheels keeps churning with 20th Mudbug coming up

As morning light spilled into the kitchen at Meals on Wheels, “the machine” got to work.

Coolers spun through an assembly line across tabletops, with workers stuffing each chest with cartons of milk, packs of yogurt, and bundled desserts.

A few moments later, just down Fifth Street, the back door rolled down shut on a truck at the curb outside the Odessa Regional Medical Center cafeteria — closing in another set of coolers, packed with main dishes.

Back across Dixie at the Meals on Wheels of Odessa building, volunteer coordinator Bobbi Cates scanned over a page of many stapled spreadsheets, covered in marks, scribbles and revisions, all part of the logistics in distributing more than 550 meals every weekday.

And nearby, after laying out the chests in the foyer and matching them with their arriving counterparts from ORMC, volunteer coordinator Angel Garcia turned to a visitor, as cars pulled into the lot and volunteers started sifting through and picking up those dozens of coolers.

“It’s good to see some drivers — the other half of ‘the machine,’” he nodded to a reporter.

It takes the workings of such a machine, with different gears and cogs in sync, to drive an operation like Meals on Wheels, and to organize thousands of food items and push them out for miles across the city every weekday, reliably and consistently, as the non-profit organization does for elderly, disabled and homebound clients in Odessa.

It takes numerous spinning wheels and moving parts, all working together like that, to make Meals on Wheels of Odessa tick, the organization’s executive director Margaret Burton agreed later that morning last week.

And one of those vital cogs in the machine is about to spin around again, as the organization prepares for its one and only annual public fundraiser — the Mudbug.

“It’s a big deal for us,” she said.

Burton pointed to several essential pillars that all work together and help prop up the organization. There are grants, first, from places like the Texas Department of Health and Human Services, or the United Way. Then there’s the organization’s annual contract with ORMC to provide main-course meals. There are, of course, the volunteers on the ground.

But in one night, the Mudbug is another one of those supporting factors, like a leg under a table.

“If you cut one off, you’re lopsided,” Burton said with a laugh.

The 20th Mudbug is set for April 17 this year on the grounds at Ector County Coliseum, where Meals on Wheels of Odessa will look to raise a sizable chunk of its income for the year.

The event features a Cajun buffet with crawfish, shrimp and more, and live and silent auctions geared to raise money for the organization.

As in years past, Meals on Wheels of Odessa will look to raise more than $100,000 on that night, to help push the organization forward across the calendar.

“It’s important,” Burton said. “We only have one fundraiser. We’re unique.”

With the Mudbug coming up in a month, the organization hopes to find more and more members of the community getting involved through that night of entertainment. Tables and sponsorship opportunities are available, as are individual tickets at $40.

Organization officials Tuesday pointed to U.S. Census data listing 14,472 people aged over 65 living in Ector County in 2016, with 16.3-percent of those bringing in income at 125-percent of the poverty level or lower.

That’s why the machine keeps running — to keep the wheels spinning and keep the meals moving.

If You Go
  • What: 20th Mudbug fundraiser
  • When: 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., April 17
  • Where: Barn G at the Ector County Coliseum
  • Tickets: Call 432-333-6451.
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